Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 6th, 2013

Check out the price trend on solar cells: down 99% since 1970

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It makes me wonder why Iran simply doesn’t go for solar rather than nuclear: a lot fewer headaches all round. (What to do with spent fuel rods, for example: a problem that, so far as I know, we have yet to solve.)

Joe Romm has the story at ThinkProgress:

price-of-solar-power-drop-graph

The price of solar photovoltaic cells has dropped 99% in the past quarter century. So in an increasing number of markets around the country, solar is at or very close to grid parity.

Consider Colorado. The Denver Business Journal reported last month the results of months-long competitive bidding process:

Xcel Energy Inc. is proposing to triple the amount of utility-scale solar power on its grid in Colorado, and add another 450 megawatts of wind power….

If approved, the plan would cut Xcel’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than one-third compared to 2005 levels.

David Eves, the CEO of Xcel’s Colorado subsidiary in the state told the Journal solar power is now cost-competitive with natural gas-fired generation:

“This is the first time that we’ve seen, purely on a price basis, that the solar projects made the cut — without considering carbon costs or the need to comply with a renewable energy standard — strictly on an economic basis.”

If solar power is seeing this kind of growth strictly on a cost basis, imagine how fast it would be growing if carbon dioxide had a price reflecting its actual harm to the environment and human health.

The Journal reports that Xcel’s proposed plan includes:

    • 170 megawatts of big, utility-scale solar power plants to be built in Colorado — separate from Xcel’s proposal to add 42.5 megawatts of small-scale solar power the utility proposed in July.
    • 450 megawatts of new Colorado wind power, bringing the company’s total wind-based power supply in Colorado to 2,650 megawatts.
    • 317 megawatts of “low-cost” power from natural gas plants the utility will use when the wind stops and the sun goes down.

Much of the credit for the sharp drop in solar prices goes to state and federal governments here and around the world for decades of R&D support, PV purchases, subsidies, and renewable energy standards.

Those who say renewables are not ready for mass deployment, that we need decades more research or more breakthroughs before renewables are ready, are living in the past. The future is now.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2013 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Technology

Obamacare cannot arrive too soon for some

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Check out this story by Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress:

Maui high school teacher Michael Siopes had a rare, aggressive, and fatal form of cancer that Kaiser, his insurance provider, had never treated before. His Kaiser physician said he would have to do an “internet search” to figure out a treatment plan, but that he likely had a month to live. Siopes found a specialist at Duke University, and, with his Kaiser doctor’s referral, underwent successful treatment that eliminated his cancer.

After the time-sensitive treatment was complete, however, Kaiser refused to pay the $250,000 bill, saying it was “elective, non-emergency, non-urgent care” and that Kaiser could have provided the treatment in-house. That was enough of an alleged injustice. But as in all access to justice cases, that is where Siopes’ story begins, not ends. Siopes learned that, like countless consumers and employees, he could not sue in court, because he was subject to an arbitration clause.

Boilerplate arbitration agreements can be fraught with injustice in many scenarios. They bind consumers and employees with no bargaining power to agree to provisions in boilerplate contracts that limit their remedies, appeal options, and can contain other restricting provisions. The U.S. Supreme Court has nonetheless upheld these contracts in case after case, constricting individuals like Siopes who believe they were wronged by major corporations.

But in Siopes’ case, he had not even signed a contract that contained the arbitration clause agreement. The agreement had been negotiated by his employer, which provided his insurance. And he did not even know about the agreement until he went to challenge their coverage. This particular clause also limits the admission of certain evidence and witnesses, and includes secretive confidentiality provisions.

The resolution to this case seems obvious. But U.S. Supreme Court precedent has drawn few lines at how coercive arbitration clauses may be. In a rare stand against these clauses, the Hawaii Supreme Court drew the line at meaningful consent.

“In this case, the Enrollment Form that Michael signed did not reference the arbitration agreement and the record does not establish that Michael was otherwise informed of the existence of the arbitration agreement, much less that he assented to it. Thus, Kaiser has failed to demonstrate ‘unambiguous intent to submit to arbitration,’ and the arbitration provision is unenforceable as between Kaiser and Michael,” the court held.

As consumer lawyer F. Paul Bland wrote, “This is one of the best decisions I’ve seen all year.” At least Hawaiians who sign away their rights must have had the opportunity to read about it in the fine print.

Arbitration is not your friend. Arbitration judges are selected and paid by the company, and (perhaps coincidentally) they find in favor of the company around 99% of the time. (Those judges who find against the company generally are dropped from the selection pool). That’s why companies try to force everyone to agree to binding arbitration when contracting for a service.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2013 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Two interesting videos from Big Think

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2013 at 10:18 am

Posted in Daily life

Make sure your EVOO is fresh

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As regular readers know, after reading the book Extra Virginity, I realized that the reason that (for example) Whole Foods could offer their Greek Extra-Virgin Olive Oil at a price about half of what it costs to produce was simple: it wasn’t olive oil, but rather some olive oil mixed with (say) hazelnut oil. It turns out that counterfeit EVOO is common because (a) EVOO is popular and (b) it’s expensive to make.

Since reading the book, I buy only California EVOO that’s bottled by the producer. Living in norther California, I have a good selection from which to choose. Currently, I have a quart of Bertolino EVOO from Santa Rosa CA. And Allison Aubrey reports at NPR that EVOO is still a miracle food. You can listen to the program at the link; the article begins:

The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating that lately has become a darling of medical researchers. It includes vegetables and grains, not so much meat and, of course, generous portions of olive oil.

Mary Flynn, an associate professor of medicine at Brown University, says the evidence that olive oil is good for your heart has never been more clear. “Olive oil is a very healthy food,” she says. “I consider it more medicine than food.”

She points to a big study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine where researchers in Spain had men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who were at risk of heart disease follow one of three diets.

Some ate a low-fat diet, another group ate a Mediterranean diet with nuts. And a third group ate a Mediterranean diet that included almost four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil per day.

“So, they could compare the three diets: Was it nuts, was it olive oil or was the low-fat diet beneficial?” says Flynn.And what researchers found was that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent. The nut group, which was consuming olive oil as well, did well, too.

“The fact is, there are a huge range of benefits of real extra-virgin olive oil,” notesTom Mueller, who has spent the last six years investigating and writing about olive oil. He says olive oil is good for two reasons: It’s mostly unsaturated fat, and extra-virgin oil, which is the highest-grade and least-processed form of olive oil, contains a whole range of other beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols.

But here’s the catch: Unfortunately, it turns out that more than half of the extra-virgin olive oil imported into the U.S. has been shown to be substandard.

“The fact is, it’s quite often just very low-grade oil that doesn’t give you the taste of the health benefits that extra virgin should give you,” Mueller says.

In fact, a study from the University of California, Davis, found that 69 percent of imports tested failed to meet a U.S. Department of Agriculture quality standard.And Mueller says in some cases the oil is just too old. By the time imported olive oil reaches us, it has often been shipped from place to place and sometimes not stored well. Even if it’s not noticeably rancid, many of the heart-healthy compounds have degraded and fizzled.

“Extra-virgin olive oil is fresh-squeezed juice — it’s a fruit juice — therefore freshness is a critical question,” he says.

Mueller says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration used to police olive oil imports to ensure producers were meeting quality and freshness standards. But those efforts have fallen off.

So, where does that leave those of us who want to get our hands on the healthy stuff?

Well, for starters, Mueller says look for brands that . . .

Continue reading.

The reason FDA inspections have fallen off, of course, is that the food industry doesn’t like inspections and regulations, and the GOP has worked strenuously to defund agencies that protect the public from business misdeeds. This, despite the fact that an American is 110 times more likely to die from contaminated food than from a terrorist attack. I know I’ve said that before, but I’m still amazed that the public doesn’t seem to care.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2013 at 10:11 am

Lightweight camp stove with USB plug for recharging iPad, iPhone, etc.

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What an extremely clever device! I want one, in a way, though I never go camping. But if I did, …

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2013 at 8:33 am

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